ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Caleb Houstan scored 13 of his career-high 21 points in the second half when Michigan pulled away to beat Rutgers 71-62 Wednesday night without head coach Juwan Howard, who was serving the first of a five-game suspension.
Former longtime Saint Joseph’s coach and current Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli was filling in for Howard. Howard was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and fined $40,000 by the Big Ten Conference after hitting a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head during the handshake line after a loss Sunday.
“When I spoke to Juwan Howard, he said, “I feel fine. I have the best coaching staff in America,’” Martelli said. “That was (assistant coaches) Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley.”
In addition, Michigan players Terrance Williams II and Moussa Diabate were suspended for Wednesday’s game as a result of the fracas.
“We knew Rutgers didn’t care that we had people out,” Houstan said.
Houstan, a freshman, made five of Michigan’s seven 3-pointers, Hunter Dickinson added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Devante’ Jones scored 14 points for the Wolverines (15-11, 9-7 Big Ten). Eli Brooks scored 11 points.
Ron Harper Jr. scored 19 points and Clifford Omoruyi 17 for the Scarlet Knights (16-11, 10-7), who lost their second straight after thrusting themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture with four straight victories over ranked opponents before losing to then-No. 5 Purdue on Sunday.
“Obviously, a tough road game and Michigan played well,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “I thought we were a step slow on both ends of the floor. I’m worried about the stretch with our guys. I thought it kind of showed a little bit here today. But give them (the Wolverines) credit.”
Michigan improved its postseason case in a game it led almost the entire way. The Wolverines never trailed after taking the lead four minutes in. They maintained the lead except when an Omoruyi dunk gave Rutgers a brief tie early in the second half.
An 11-0 run with five points from Kobe Bufkin and four by Brooks gave Michigan the first double-digit lead of the game at 59-45 with just under nine minutes remaining. The lead stayed in double figures until another Omoruyi dunk for the game’s final points.
“They got on a run there and they got into the lane,” Pikiell said. “We talked a lot about that and they got on a little bit of run. We had some timely turnovers, too, and some opportunities to make some layups and make some shots, and we didn’t convert. That kind of snowballed.”
Michigan held a single-digit lead over the final 16 minutes of a fast-moving first half behind 12 points from Dickinson and led 32-30. All but six of the 62 points — on a pair of 3-pointers by Houstan — were scored inside the arc.
Rutgers beat Michigan 75-67 on Jan. 4 at home, the Scarlet Knights’ first win over the Wolverines, who lead the series 15-1.
Rutgers is home against No. 13 Wisconsin on Saturday. Michigan is host to No. 15 Illinois on Sunday.